Saturday, 15 March 2008

Sparkly Songbird Surrounded By Sparkly Stones

So finally I made it to the most popular part of the Tower of London – the Jewel House. Home of the Crown Jewels, obviously you can’t take photos inside so I can only show you the outside of this building which is part of the Waterloo Barracks.

Security is tight here and you immediately feel you are entering a place of great importance. Geared up for the big crowds of summer and weekends, there are snake style passageways through the first few rooms with large video screens and dramatic music to keep the people entertained. Although it was relatively quiet on the day I visited, we all stood and watched the video clips of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation (in glorious colour) and other important events like the State Opening of Parliament. They also showed beautiful close up photographs of the various jewels, orbs, sovereigns ring, crowns, sceptres and the First Star of Africa- the largest diamond in the world.

This was drama, British-style, and I found it fascinating that all the tourists watched in silence and anticipation despite there being no queues requiring them to wait patiently!

You enter the chambers where the Crown Jewels are kept through thick vault doors which is all part of the security setup. The first thing to hit me was the vivid colour of the various jewels – so bright they almost looked fake! The Coronation Robe is on display and, having just seen our young Queen appearing to walk so effortlessly in it at the coronation, I wondered how she didn’t pass out with the weight!

Then you reach the travelator (similar to those at airports) which takes you passed the most important jewels, crowns and Royal regalia. When I saw the crown Jewels as a child there was no travelator and visitors were kept several feet away from the display cases by ropes and asked to move along quickly. This present system is much better. The lighting is dim in the room which makes the spotlights pick up the colour of the gems beautifully. Even the children seemed to pick up atmosphere and there was an air of solemn, hushed excitement in the room.

I tried to make notes as I moved along the travelator and ended up missing half of the crowns! When I got to the end I asked the Warder if I could go around for another look and he very kindly allowed me to skip back round to the beginning of the conveyor belt. I doubt if this would have happened on a busier day so I was pretty lucky. Second time round I was able to appreciate the beauty and majesty of these Royal artefacts and particularly marvel at Queen Victoria’s tiny diamond crown even though the travelator does move rather quickly – blink and you’ll miss something!

Towards the end there is a massive collection of gold and silver items from Royal christening fonts to banqueting plates. All very impressive and quite overwhelming. Then you go through more massive vault doors and head towards the significantly less sparkly outside world, But, just before you leave feeling all warm and content from witnessing such amazing pieces of historical beauty, the bubble is burst well and truly. Right by the exit is one last display case containing the most dreadful Millennium Crown competition winning design by a child. Whilst I am all for encouraging children to use their imaginations and having their dreams made a reality this, to my mind, should not still be on display among genuine Royal artefacts. It was the result of a Blue Peter TV competition but, eight years on, I think it’s time for it to be put in the BBC vaults! For me, it spoilt the magic of the Crown Jewels and that was a big shame.


Ham said...

In the dim and distant past, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers were a client of mine in their RHQ in the Tower. So, apart from being able to park in the tower, I arranged a special opening for the jewels for my family. Impressed? I know I was ;-)

Sparkly Songbird said...

Seriously impressed! If commentators were eligible I'd be giving you a Ding Dong for that!
SS x

Sparkly Songbird said...

p.s. I love your London Daily Photo Blog and also the Elephants. Never a dull post on your blogs :)
Sparkly x